GLENDALE, Ariz. — Sidney Crosby held the same misguided belief that most young players hold when they enjoy early success. Crosby went to a Stanley Cup Final in his third NHL season and won the Cup in his fourth.
“You think it might be an annual thing, or at least something where you’re back there fairly often, and you find out pretty quickly that it’s not quite that simple,” Crosby said Friday after the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins practiced at Gila River Arena before their game against the Coyotes on Saturday. “Going through a lot of different things in between probably allows you to appreciate it more the second time around.”
Crosby endured plenty in the seven seasons between his first (2009) and second (2016) Cups, including multiple concussions that limited him to 99 games in the 2009-10, 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons, and the criticism that he didn’t score enough in the postseason, but as he prepares to become the 86th player, and 12th fastest in NHL history to reach 1,000 points — he’s two short — Crosby’s NHL legacy is now secure.
He’s fifth all-time in points per game at 1.324, trailing only Wayne Gretzky (1.921), Mario Lemieux (1.883), Mike Bossy (1.497) and Bobby Orr (1.393). He leads the NHL in goals (30) and points per game (1.28) this season and is tied with Connor McDavid in overall points at 60. He captured his first Conn Smythe Trophy last season as playoff MVP and now he has multiple Cups.
“He’s arguably been the face of hockey for 10-plus years and he’s done such an admirable job,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “He’s a good person first and foremost, he’s a great teammate and he happens to be a terrific player.
“We have so much respect for what he brings to our team. He’s so driven. I think he’s the heartbeat of this group and he drives the team.
The Stanley Cup run we went on last year was just a testament to it.”
There was a period before last season where some wondered if Crosby would ever climb the mountain again. He was approaching age 30, and other teams in the East and West appeared to have the Penguins’ number. Since last season’s Cup run, however, Crosby almost looks rejuvenated; re-energized.
“I think when you look at a player’s career graph, by this time guys have usually hit a plateau or maybe are going the other way,” said Pittsburgh assistant coach Rick Tocchet, who fell 48 points shy of the 1,000-point club. “With [Crosby], I don’t see the graph going down or neutral. I still see it climbing. He’s getting wiser. The maturity has mixed with the hockey IQ that has always been through the roof. I don’t know how much better you can get, but from what I see, the arrow is still going up.”
It’s been 19 years and 18 seasons (the 2004-05 season was canceled by the lockout) since an NHL team repeated as Stanley Cup champs when the Detroit Red Wings did it in 1997 and 1998. The Red Wings and Penguins are also the last two teams to reach the Cup Finals in consecutive seasons, doing it in 2008 and 2009 when they each won a Cup.
Without the pressure of his legacy no longer weighing on him, Crosby does, in fact appear to be taking his game to another level and the Penguins are following suit. Pittsburgh is in second place in the Metropolitan Division standings; third in the overall NHL standings with 74 points. With essentially the entire roster back from last season’s championship to support him, Crosby has the chance to add another feather to his considerably decorated cap by winning consecutive Cups.
“There’s a lot of guys who would love to be able to say they played in three Stanley Cup Finals; won two Stanley Cups,” he said. “But it’s still the pursuit of the next one that motivates you. That doesn’t change.”
Penguins at Coyotes
When: 6 p.m., Saturday
Where: Gila River Arena, Glendale
TV: FOX Sports Arizona Plus
Radio: KTAR 92.3 FM
Records: Coyotes — 17-28-7. Penguins — 34-13-6.
Injury report: Coyotes — C Brad Richardson (broken right tibia and fibula) is out indefinitely. Penguins — C Evgeni Malkin (lower body) is day to day and could play. He’s missed six straight games. LW Carl Hagelin (concussion) is day to day. RW Bryan Rust (upper body) will be re-evaluated back in Pittsburgh. LW Conor Sheary (upper body) is out until March.
Scouting the Penguins: Pittsburgh is 4-0-1 in its last five games. … C Sidney Crosby leads the NHL in goals (30) and points per game (1.28) and is tied with Connor McDavid in overall points at 60. He needs two more points to become the 86th player to reach 1,000 for his career after Vancouver’s Henrik Sedin reached the milestone earlier this season. … C Evgeni Malkin was sixth in the NHL in points at 54 despite missing the past six games. … Rookie G Matt Murray is tied for seventh in the NHL in save percentage at .923.
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